Can it be said that: "you are what your friends eat?" The primary objectives of this research are to: (a) describe patterns of food choice in a bounded population over 20 years;(b) statistically assess relationships between social status and food choice over time;(c) to evaluate the extent to which taste preferences, specifically patterns of food choice, might be observed to spread through this population via social ties. While it is commonly accepted that what we eat affects our well-being, existing research that seeks to specify causal relationships between eating behaviors and health outcomes has largely ignored the role of social connections between networks of individuals. To what extent do our specific food consumption patterns depend on the taste preferences of people to whom we are directly (or indirectly) connected? This research has the potential to help explain variation in health status by allowing for synthesis of data on health outcomes, social ties, and eating behaviors over a 20-year period. Falsifiable hypotheses concerning taste transmission and strength of social ties are generated by insights drawn from sociological research of taste preferences, social networks, inequality, and biological theories of diet, nutrition, and disease. It is hypothesized that patterns of food choice can diffuse through social ties between individuals and influence health. Such evidence would point to a novel, undocumented social component of health. A three-stage analysis is proposed. In the first stage, cluster analysis and individuals'scoring on an index of "healthy eating" are used to describe individuals'eating patterns and the degree to which they change diet over time. In the second stage, 1 use individuals'diet patterns, healthy eating index, SES variables, and data from social network ties over time as predictor variables in a series of cross-lagged panel models designed to statistically assess effects on individuals'diets. In the third stage, I use social network methods and visualization techniques to build on the prior longitudinal models, and to statistically assess the extent and speed of diffusion of diet patterns over time. With growing concern for health conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular disease that are highly correlated with our tastes in food, this project has important public health implications. A better understanding of the social mechanisms that underlie these health conditions can point to more effective behavioral interventions to address modifiable risk factors for disease. In sum, this research has the potential to make the public think more critically about not just what, but how, it eats, by uncovering mechanisms by which social norms can change in a given population over time.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Type
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
1F31AG033503-01A1
Application #
7749312
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F16-E (20))
Program Officer
Haaga, John G
Project Start
2009-09-25
Project End
2010-10-24
Budget Start
2009-09-25
Budget End
2010-09-24
Support Year
1
Fiscal Year
2009
Total Cost
$27,696
Indirect Cost
Name
Harvard University
Department
Social Sciences
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
082359691
City
Cambridge
State
MA
Country
United States
Zip Code
02138
Pachucki, Mark C (2014) Food choices and peer relationships: Examining 'a taste for necessity' in a network context. Sociol Soc 46:229-252
Pachucki, M A (2012) Food pattern analysis over time: unhealthful eating trajectories predict obesity. Int J Obes (Lond) 36:686-94
Pachucki, Mark A; Jacques, Paul F; Christakis, Nicholas A (2011) Social network concordance in food choice among spouses, friends, and siblings. Am J Public Health 101:2170-7